What to do in England's scenic Malvern Hills

Embrace the great outdoors in this corner of Worcestershire, where elegant towns and rolling hills sit side by side.

By James March
Published 11 Apr 2021, 06:06 BST
Malvern Priory and The Abbey hotel in Great Malvern. The handsome town makes the ideal base for ...

Malvern Priory and The Abbey hotel in Great Malvern. The handsome town makes the ideal base for exploring the surrounding hills and its history centres around its days a popular Victorian spa retreat.

Photograph by Getty Images

Why go

From Dickens to Darwin, the list of Victorian luminaries who regularly decamped to the Worcestershire spa town of Malvern is extensive. Small wonder: thanks to its picturesque location amid the Malvern Hills and the healing qualities of its water, the bustling town thrived in the 19th century — and its historic heart, Great Malvern, still retains much of its elegant architecture today. It’s the ideal starting point for exploring this bucolic region, where any trip is all about getting outdoors. The Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is threaded with hiking and biking trails that weave across this 10-mile range of volcanic hills that soar above the quilted landscape below. Set off and you’ll be treated to some of the finest views in the country, stretching from Birmingham in the east to the distant Welsh mountains in the west. 

What to do

Walking the Malvern Hills can take you from landscapes such as sun-dappled woodlands through to stony, windswept trails. This cinematic scenery, along with curious local landmarks such as Giant’s Cave, likely inspired writer J R R Tolkien, who enjoyed walking in these hills. If you’d prefer to take in the scenery on two wheels, there are numerous flat bridleways and quiet country lanes, too, with the short route around North Hill one of the region’s most spectacular journeys.

Born just a few miles from Worcester in the village of Lower Broadheath, Edward Elgar is one of the area’s best-known sons, and the house where he was born in 1857 is now a museum. Part of a scenic, 37-mile Elgar Route (a driving route), The Firs is a charming country cottage furnished with his personal desk, chair, gramophone and writing tools, alongside original manuscripts for works including Land of Hope and Glory. 

The musical heritage doesn’t end there: head to the riverside town of Upton upon Severn, famous for its summer music festivals, such as the Upton Jazz Festival and the Upton Blues Festival. Even when the party’s over, the town is worthy of a detour for the independent shops, pubs and restaurants. 

A footpath winds along Herefordshire Beacon in the Malvern Hills. Writer J R R Tolkien often walked here, and it's believed the soul-stirring landscapes partly inspired his epic, high fantasy novels. 

Photograph by Getty Images

Where to eat

With its sublime views of Wales’ Black Mountains, The Chase Inn, on the western slopes of the Malvern Hills, is a welcome sight for weary walkers. Call in for one of its excellent Sunday roasts. 

Elsewhere, at the award-winning L’Amuse Bouche, at The Cotford Hotel in Great Malvern, chef-patron Chris Morgan serves a mix of modern and traditional French-style cuisine using locally sourced produce. Try the fillet of Hereford beef with ox cheek croquette and pearl barley risotto. 

Don’t miss

Easily reachable by foot on a winding path from Great Malvern, Worcestershire Beacon’s 1,394ft summit is the highest point of the Malvern Hills, offering sweeping views of 13 counties. Make the climb to the top and you’ll find a toposcope pointing out all the peaks visible on a clear day — a replica of the one built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Time your journey with sunrise or sunset, when the hills are cloaked in warm, amber light.

The vast Italianate mansion of Witley Court and Gardens was devastated by fire in 1937, but its spectacular shell and landscaped gardens remain intact. Admire the ornate pavilions, grand porticoes and exquisite flower beds, and ponder the Gatsby-esque balls that took place here in the 1890s. 

Where to stay

Check in to Colwall Park Hotel, a grand Victorian bolthole in the pretty village of Colwall on the western edges of the Malvern Hills. The hotel pairs an English country house with ornate, 17th-century French furniture and colourful Persian rugs. The cosy lounge, complete with log fire, is a perfect spot in which to unwind after a day’s walking. Doubles from £110. 

If it’s R&R you’re seeking, The Malvern is a modern spa hotel kitted out with all the wellness wonders you could imagine, including an indoor-outdoor pool, salt grotto, crystal steam room and herb sauna. Doubles from £151, B&B. 

Published in the May 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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